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Japan politician caught in make-up spending row

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Rising star and possible future prime minister of Japan, Yuko Obuchi was under fire on Thursday over reports she has spent political donations on make-up, in a blow to the most prominent of a new wave of women ministers - PHOTO: REUTERS

[Tokyo] Rising star and possible future prime minister of Japan, Yuko Obuchi was under fire on Thursday over reports she has spent political donations on make-up, in a blow to the most prominent of a new wave of women ministers.

Obuchi, a mother of two, was tapped by premier Shinzo Abe in September as the country's first female minister of economy, trade and industry, a powerful portfolio that includes oversight of the energy sector.

The centre-left Mainichi Shimbun said on Thursday that over the five years to 2012, her political funding body spent more than 10 million yen (US$95,000) on things unconnected to politics, including cosmetics and accessories at a department store.

The organisation also spent 3.62 million yen in a boutique run by her sister's husband, the report said, citing receipts it had obtained.

Other newspaper reports claimed a separate Obuchi group had spent some 26 million yen on theatre tickets for supporters.

Political funding rules in Japan do not explicitly bar much aside from outright bribery. They are generally interpreted to allow for spending on the running of offices and promotion of individuals.

Rows about misspending are common, and usually provide little more than a sideshow in the very self-absorbed world of Tokyo politics, although they occasionally claim scalps.

Ms Obuchi told a parliamentary committee on economy and industry on Thursday that she was not personally involved in any of the spending in question.

However, "I believe this spending was necessary for my political activities," she said, while pledging to investigate claims of funding theatre tickets.

Ms Obuchi, the daughter of a former prime minister, has rock solid political credentials and appeared unlikely to suffer any lasting damage from the episode.

The 40-year-old was the highest profile woman among five to be named to the cabinet during a recent reshuffle.

Her promotion was seen as part of an effort by Mr Abe to bolster women, amid a campaign to increase their participation in the general work force. AFP